Electorate is now keen to quiz state of our democracy

Before the entrance of the EFF into parliament, South Africans had much less interest in interrogating the state of our democracy.
Before the entrance of the EFF into parliament, South Africans had much less interest in interrogating the state of our democracy.
Image: AFP /GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

Around the time of Jacob Zuma's second election, conflict and contestation raged in public discourse. At the time, voters grappled with the idea of the individual versus the organisation.

Particularly stark is the memory of a prominent singer and activist who was very vocal about her attempts to reform the ANC from within. She proudly exclaimed that she didn't believe in Zuma but the ANC, hence her vote was for the organisation and not its president.

I imagine many people at the time voted with this kind of cognitive dissonance.

If anything, the contestation of the Zuma era catalysed a political vigour and interest among the electorate that the previous eras seemed to have lulled. Before the entrance of the EFF into parliament, South Africans had much less interest in interrogating the state of our democracy.

Although strong support for the governing party remains, there has been a divestment from the cognitive dissonance which allowed us to separate the consequences of individuals from the impact of the party and its government on our lives.

People are not forced to think harder about why their support for a ruling elite remains despite its failings. Some have compelling, historical, fact-based arguments while others have simply made a decision to stick it out. Whatever the reasons, I appreciate the honesty.

Democracy has, in many ways, been a deceitful project. The way in which nation building and national discourses around (re)conciliation were constructed emanated from a dishonesty akin to that seen where parents pacify their children with fables that soothe their childish insecurities. As the pacified, we have learnt a pattern of political communication which is underpinned by that dishonesty.

At the turn of the 25th year since the nation's birth, South Africans are starting to look in the rear view mirror. There is a hopefulness and a trust in our political leadership that is starting to dissipate, slowly. We are taking stock of the consequences of trusting our self-proclaimed liberators and awaking to the possibilities of a nation truly led by the people.

The political reflection staring back at us is one that compels us to take responsibility for the choices we made willingly and unwillingly, because it must be noted that the political agency of South Africans was always present yet guided by wicked rhetorical coercion. Under such circumstances we can legitimately question the character of the agency we have exercised in the last 25 years and possibly think of it anew.

On the brink of our sixth national elections, South Africans are truly alive to the consequences of political inertia while also being keenly aware of the politics that extend beyond political parties.

We know that we are stuck with a system of governance many of us don't approve of, not only in terms of the leaders who run it but also the actual structure they exist in and maintain.

South Africans are younger, more critical, less traditional and truly cognizant of our place in a global community. We might not articulate this evolving consciousness in the same language and we may not all be after the same things, but we know that something has to change. We mean different things when we speak about change now, we mean honesty.

As we move on to the next phase, we are much better placed to get to where we were always going. South African democracy was never going to remain static.

•Jamil F. Khan is a PhD Critical Diversity Studies candidate

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